New Carmel Bay Players group presents a masterful 'Some Girl(s)' at Carl Cherry.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Playwright Neil LaBute gets labeled a misanthrope and a misogynist because he primarily writes about men who hate their fellow human beings or themselves, and hate or fear or hurt women. It’s probably a credit to his expert accuracy with dialogue and character that people – even the people at Salon.com, who titled a 2001 article on LaBute, “The Misanthrope Speaks” – fall for the ruse.
LaBute may be one of the most misunderstood humanistic, maybe even feminist, playwrights around. He breaks all kinds of guy codes. He tips off women the duplicity of men on the hunt, the cruel ways and means of ambitious bastards, the stunted emotions of liars and hiders, the brittle confidence games of the locker room. He’s a snitch, in the best possible sense. But he’s also talking to the men in the audience: Why would you cheat yourself out of the warm kinship of women? What are you afraid of?
Some Girl(s) is about a man who visits four past girlfriends on some quest of discovery.
That man is referred to as Guy – as in “everyman” guy. He’s played by Lewis Rhames, who handles the shifty, substantial role (he’s in every scene) with sustained fidelity. The play is neatly dissected into four scenes, two on either side of intermission. All four scenes take place in hotel or motel rooms. That’s because Guy, a writer, is crossing the country searching for answers from four women with whom he had relationships that ended in a way that he suspects hurt them. Each room is a setting for a different city and a different woman, the first woman being Sam, in Seattle. They were high school sweethearts. At least that’s what she thought until he abandoned her on prom night 15 years ago. And here he is, back to re-examine the rubble.
She has to pick up her kids from soccer practice before traffic thickens. Their meeting is prickly and awkward, the queen bed prominent. But we find out that Guy’s motives for meeting are more inscrutable than sex. He wants to know how he hurt her. It’s like some emotional sadomasochistic invitation. And Sam, played first skittish and, gradually, bitter, by Cristal Clark, is scared but intrigued.
Rhames plays Guy with a sort of apologetic, boyish charm. He acts as awkward about dredging up this old stuff and Sam is hesitant to go there again, but she does.
“You want to believe,” she tells him, “that in your life you really meant something to someone.”
What’s this about? Is he trying to atone? Is it some twisted game?
Where their semi-cathartic visit ends, the next scene/woman/hotel room picks up. This time it’s Tyler, played as a butch bad-ass by Dania Ketcham-Rhames in black leather jacket, black boots, red jeans and a fiery bandana. She’s unselfconscious and libidinous in a way that threatens Guy. Though he means to dredge up stuff from her, she beats him to it.
“You wanted me to get one of those… strap-ons,” she says, to his discomfort. “It’s OK. It’s just us looking back… still a little too wild for you, huh?”
Of the four women, Tyler’s the least affected by their past involvement. That’s not true, however, for the next woman, Lindsay, a former college professor with whom Guy had a months-long affair while she was married.
“I think you’re the kind of person who leaves a lot of hurt in your boyish wake. I think it’s your number one byproduct.”
As played by Teresa Del Piero, Lindsay is maybe the most self-possessed of the women – older, with lush gray hair, a graceful sexiness, a willful teacher authority over Guy, though her hurt extends beyond herself.
“When the going gets tough… ” Lindsay says.
“The tough get going,” Guy tries to finish.
“I was going to say, ‘Run off and hide like a f*ing child.’”
The way she wants Guy to atone for what he did to her, and her marriage, is sadly perverse but coldly equitable.
Then there’s Bobbi, a youngish professional, played with a mixture of curiosity, scorn, hurt and humor by Alexandra Bristow. She has a twin sister whom she believes Guy was attracted to or even had an affair with, but she’s moved past it to a degree that disturbs Guy’s ego. She’s even wily and funny enough to pull an April Fool’s joke (the play opened on April 1) that proves as much. It’s with her that his mask begins to slip.
LaBute’s play is naked and masterful, delivered with a commanding intellectual/emotional rigor. Director Conrad Selvig, for this inaugural launch of his new theater enterprise, Carmel Bay Players, has chosen a bold, incredibly engaging piece of work that sailed through set changes, lighting and music with steady pacing, delivering a streamlined, funny, substantial beauty – one of the best local productions in recent memory.
It deserves and demands your attention. But brace yourself.
SOME GIRL(S) plays 8pm Friday and Saturday, 2pm Sunday, through April 30, at Carl Cherry Center, Fourth and Guadalupe, Carmel. $18/student, senior, $20/general. 238-1789, www.carlcherrycenter.org.